Last week, I posted about my first trip to Blossom Music Festival to see the Cleveland Orchestra. I don’t know what took me so long to get out to the summer concert hotspot, but Scott and I tried to make up for lost time by paying it a return visit this past weekend.
In addition to the Orchestra, Blossom is also home to the Porthouse Theatre which is located up the road from the main pavillion. On Sunday afternoon, we took a leisurely drive to see their production of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys.
This is the 43rd season of Porthouse Theatre which started after Kent State and The Cleveland Orchestra paired up to develop Blossom Music Center as a comprehensive environment for the arts. A summer theatre festival, they helm 3 productions on their outdoor stage each season.
In addition to producing shows, they also support the Porthouse Theatre Academy. Part of Kent State’s School of Theater and Dance, this summer program for high school students and incoming Kent freshmen provides intensive theatre classes and performance experience.
I’ve got to say, though, my favorite part of their education mission is their ‘Adopt a Student Artist‘ program. For $300, audience members can “adopt” one of the summer interns. I really like this because – in addition to making a financial contribution to the internship program – donors have the opportunity to be a support system for those summer interns that are far from home.
Donors can take their adopted student artists out to lunch and get to know them throughout the season. Right after college, I apprenticed at a theatre and can tell you a program like this would have been much appreciated by a lot of my fellow apprentices who were new to the area.
After learning these things about Porthouse, I was excited to visit them for their production of The Sunshine Boys. The same theatre I once apprenticed for used to produce a good deal of Neil Simon so I’ve always had a soft spot for his comedy style. However, up until last week, I hadn’t seen this particular play.
In it, a young agent tries to reunite his elderly uncle Willie Clark with the other half of the vaudeville comedy duo “Lewis and Clark.” Onstage Lewis and Clark were magic; off-stage they couldn’t stand each other and haven’t spoken in over 20 years. When a variety show comes calling, the question is whether the two cantankerous comedians can put aside their differences long enough to perform one last show.
As with other Neil Simon plays, the laughs are paired with an undertone of sentimentality and sadness. In the case of The Sunshine Boys, while you’re laughing at the classic wink-nod style of vaudeville comedy, you’re experiencing Clark’s struggles as he comes to grips with his age and fears of being forgotten.
In particular, I enjoyed how George Roth brought Clark’s infuriatingly hard-headedness to the stage. He not only hit the nail on the head with the script’s ‘bada-bings’ and character’s anger at his former comedy partner (and pretty much everyone else), but also managed to capture Clark’s quieter moments of reflection and resignation.
Marc Moritz played Al Lewis — and while there was a lag in timing once or twice between Roth’s Clark and Moritz’s Lewis, they were still fitting foils for one another. On the surface, Moritz’s Lewis was dapper and well-put-together – wearing impeccably neat suits compared to Clark’s rumpled sports coat thrown over a pair of pajamas. And Moritz was definitely on point with this fastidiousness. Moreover, he subtly sneaks in Lewis’s own struggles dealing with “retirement.” In the end, even if they can’t be friends, the two still manage an uneasy camaraderie.
As with Blossom’s main pavillion, the Porthouse Theatre is an outdoor facility. When it comes to performing in outdoor spaces, there are definite challenges – you don’t have the luxury of house lights to draw the audience immediately into the action. And when there are choruses of birds chirping in the background, the actors’ focus is essential in keeping us engaged. The cast did an excellent job at this – with a bird’s well-timed chirp even lending itself to one of the jokes.
If you’re looking to take in the great outdoors while you’re there, the grounds open 90 minutes before the show so that guests can leisurely enjoy a picnic in the gazebo or under one of the many brightly colored umbrellas. And you don’t have to worry about bringing your own food, since Porthouse offers a variety of boxed dinners to pre-order and have ready for pick up.
Sadly, because of my inability to ever leave the house on time, Scott and I didn’t have a chance to get there early enough to enjoy a picnic; however, we did grab a quick soft pretzel during intermission and next time hope to leave early enough to make an afternoon of it.
In addition to The Sunshine Boys, this summer’s season at Porthouse includes the sold-out Chicago as well as the classic musical comedy Hello Dolly!, which runs July 28 til August 14. Porthouse’s very own Artistic Director Terri Kent will play the famous matchmaker when she returns to the stage after a 13-year hiatus. Tickets are available here.
Porthouse Theatre 411:
Disclosure: Scott and I were invited to see a show at Porthouse Theatre by a supporter and patron of their theatre program. We chose The Sunshine Boys because of my love for Neil Simon comedies. All opinions in this post are 100% my own.